Treasure, violence, hurricanes, politics, love, brotherhood. Put these things together and you’ve got a look into one of the sexiest periods of history: the Golden Age of Piracy. But who were the players during this historic age, and what made them tick? How did the most famous names in pirate history get their start, and why are they still worth talking about now? Netflix’s docu-series “The Lost Pirate Kingdom” offers a look into the minds of the famous swashbucklers that live in infamy for their impressive criminal records and gives us a taste of what it might have been like to live alongside them.
The series takes place at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession when privateers, or government-backed pirates, were no longer offered commissions to steal from rival countries’ ships across the Caribbean and Atlantic. As the series notes, many former privateers were faced with the options of either dying poor or switching to a life of piracy. Others who were impoverished or destitute at the time also saw piracy as an opportunity to escape the rigid social hierarchy which impeded their socioeconomic mobility.
The show depicts those who chose a life of piracy, including the now famous Blackbeard (James Oliver Wheatley, “Robin Hood: The Rebellion”), Anne Bonny (Mia Tomlinson, debut), Samuel Bellamy (Evan Milton, “Tell Me Who I Am”) and Black Caesar (Miles Yekinni, “The Reluctant Landlord”), among others. “The Lost Pirate Kingdom” explores how these famous names began their careers as pirates: While all of them were motivated by the fiscal opportunities piracy offered, some sought riches for love, others did it for political gain and for freedom.
The series offers a play-by-play analysis of the events that occurred at the start of the golden age of piracy, intertwining vivid anecdotes with larger historical narratives of how pirates and political states interacted with each other. By using both testimonies of modern historians and dramatizations of what might have happened, we get to see a historic era come to life before our very eyes.
The only issue is that while the era itself offers colorful and compelling tales of humanity, the series doesn’t always deliver with the same amount of nuance. Instead, many of the portrayals feel two-dimensional and the depth of historical analysis is surface-level. The series serves as a good introductory course for the era, but it seems to leave us at just that — introductions.
While the stories behind the pirates are interesting, they often feel like linear narratives. At one point, the series explores the background of Charles Vane (Tom Padley, “Allied”), a brutal pirate known for his ability to torture his captives. The series explains that because he grew up in the hostile environment of London during the 1700s, he was capable of violence. While this is intriguing, we never get to see exactly how Vane became a pirate and we’re expected to make this logical leap without much else to back it up. On top of basic historical analysis, the acting and production leave much to be desired. Footage from scenes often repeat throughout the series, and while the acting performances get the job done, they aren’t anything to write home about.
Ultimately, despite the lack of nuance, the series is genuinely entertaining. At the very least, “The Lost Pirate Kingdom” provides a glimpse into a fascinating era of history, and it’s a worthwhile endeavor if you have any curiosity about the period. However, if you’re looking for a nuanced historical narrative rather than general information and interesting anecdotes, this might not be the series for you.
Daily Arts Writer Sarah Rahman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.